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‘Hoos previews: Virginia looks to avenge loss to Duke

By Zach Pereles

UVA-DukeTwo points.

That’s what separated Virginia on the scoreboard the last time it faced Duke — a 72-70 loss that remains the Cavaliers’ only defeat this season.

But to Tony Bennett, the margin was much greater than that. To the Virginia head coach, it was missed free throws, missed three-pointers, turnovers, poor defense, poor rebounding and plenty of other factors that led the his team’s only loss thus far.

Now No. 3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) gets its shot at revenge against No. 2 Duke (20-2, 8-1 ACC) in a clash of two of the nation’s best teams in Charlottesville.

If Virginia wants to taste revenge, though, it will start on the defensive end, as most things do with Bennett. Duke’s 72 points the first time around are the most Virginia has allowed this year.

“I think when we played Duke the first time, they obviously do such a good job at creating off the dribble and using their spacing,” Bennett said Monday. “And then when they get to the rim, they can certainly make plays. You’ve just got to be as good as you can on the ball. And obviously when help’s required, you have to help.

“We’re always working on that. That’s something that we try to do well in our defensive system. They test it in certain ways that a lot of people don’t.”

The Cavaliers are hoping to have a fully healthy Ty Jerome on Saturday after the star point guard suffered a back injury against NC State and missed the following game against Miami. Updates on Jerome’s status have been scarce, though. If he’s unable to go on Saturday, the Cavaliers will have to play a tight backcourt rotation with Kihei Clark, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter logging big minutes.

This is the first team Virginia has faced twice this year, though Saturday’s version of Duke will be very different from the one the Cavaliers saw on January 19 in Durham. Point guard Tre Jones is now healthy for the Blue Devils after missing the first meeting with a shoulder injury. Jones is a terrific on-ball defender and does a good job getting the offense going as well, even though he is struggling shooting the ball.

For Virginia to even up the regular season series, it will need some better outside shooting, the one place the Cavaliers should have a distinct advantage. The Cavaliers are shooting 40 percent from three in conference play, tops in the ACC, but hit just 3 of 17 long balls in Durham.

It’s a meeting of two of the nation’s best teams. ESPN’s College GameDay is in town, and the Cavaliers should be feeling fresh after a week off. As far as regular season college basketball games go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Three Cavaliers to watch:

  • Kyle Guy. The Virginia sharpshooter has made just 7 of 26 shots over the last two games, including 3 of 13 from three. In the first game between these two teams, Guy was just 2 of 7 from three, but made up for it by going 4 for 5 from two. Guy is Virginia’s biggest single advantage on offense. If he heats up like he has shown he can in the past, Duke, which is 308th in the nation in three-point percentage, could struggle to keep up. Guy has shot the three considerably better better at home (50 percent) than he has one the road (40.4), and backed by a friendly crowd, he’ll look to continue that success in Charlottesville.
  • Mamadi Diakite. Virginia’s most versatile big man defender, Diakite can guard anyone from Zion Williamson to RJ Barrett to Marques Bolden. Against Duke, though, he struggled mightily, going 1 for 5 from the floor and collecting four fouls in just 17 minutes. He’s been playing very well recently, though, and if he can carry that level of play into this contest, Virginia will be much better off. The Cavaliers need contributions from up and down the roster, and Diakite can be an X factor.
  • Braxton Key. Another important role player, Key handled his first visit to Cameron Indoor Arena reasonably well by scoring 11 points — seven of which came at the free throw line. Key is also one of several players who seems to be in line to guard either Williamson or Barrett at some point, and he guarded Williamson with some success in the first meeting. The Alabama transfer has had two double-digit scoring outputs in ACC play: against Florida State and at Duke. Saturday would be a great time for his third.

Three Blue Devils to watch:

  • Zion Williamson. How will Virginia alter its defense against Williamson? The Cavaliers’ success likely hinges on slowing down the likely National Player of the Year. Williamson scored 27 points and added nine rebounds in the first meeting.
  • RJ Barrett. A strong candidate to be the No. 2 pick in the draft following Williamson, Barrett scored 30 in the first meeting. Barrett isn’t nearly as strong as Williamson, but he’s a better ball-handler and is generally the leading shot-taker for the Blue Devils. The common thread in Duke’s two losses is Barrett struggling.
  • Tre Jones. Jones is a perfect compliment to more decorated freshmen Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish. He’s a high-intensity on-ball defender who is more than willing to take a backseat on offense but always ready to take a big shot. How Virginia adjusts to Jones’ presence on both ends is key. Expect a heavy dose of Kihei Clark versus Jones.

KenPom says: Virginia, 70-66, (65 percent chance of victory)

Final notes:

  • Bennett is 3-10 against Duke while at Virginia, though he did coach the Cavaliers to a couple of big wins against the Blue Devils: the 2014 ACC Tournament Championship and a 2018 win at Duke, the program’s first win in Durham since 1995.
  • Jay Huff is a Durham native. Also hailing from North Carolina is Braxton Key.
  • Javin DeLaurier is from Shipman, Virginia and played high school ball in Charlottesville at St. Anne’s-Belfield.

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